Three days remain in the exciting Haru basho, and with apologies to Bruce, almost everything of consequence has yet to be decided. Here are the storylines to follow in the closing days.
The Yusho Race
Yokozuna Hakuho leads with a 12-0 record. Tomorrow, he faces one of his pursuers, Ozeki Goeido (10-2). His remaining two bouts should be against the other 10-2 Ozeki, Takayasu, and his fellow Yokozuna, Kakuryu (9-3).
M4 Ichinojo (11-1) remained one off the pace with a dominating victory over Asanoyama. His degree of difficulty goes up tomorrow with a bout against Komusubi Mitakeumi (5-7), who leads the head-to-head 6-3. Mitakeumi is a challenging opponent even at less than 100%, although if Ichinojo maintains his current form, he should prevail. I am guessing that we will see Ichinojo matched with Takakeisho on Saturday. The options for his final opponent include Tamawashi, Hokutofuji, and Kotoshogiku.
Only Kakuryu fell out of the 10-2 hunt group today, leaving 4 two-off-the-pace pursuers: Takayasu, Goeido, M7 Aoiyama and M8 Kotoshogiku.
Kadoban Ozeki Tochinoshin
Tochinoshin was unable to record a second career win against Hakuho, and his record stands even at 6-6, leaving him two victories short of the required 8. His remaining three bouts should be against Kakuryu, Tamawashi, and Takakeisho, with the last of these possibly deciding which of them will be Ozeki in May.
Takakeisho’s Ozeki Run
Takakeisho could not avenge his promotion-denying loss to Goeido at Hatsu, and fell to 8-4. Like Tochinoshin, he also needs 2 wins from 4 bouts to be Ozeki in May. He will try to break his two-bout losing streak tomorrow when he faces Takayasu, who leads the head-to-head 6-2. This is likely to be followed by a bout against a rampaging Ichinojo, and, if Takakeisho splits the next two matches, a potential winner-take-all clash with Tochinoshin on senshuraku.
The San’yaku Ranks
Remarkably, with only three days remaining, the number of open San’yaku slots could still mathematically range from zero to four. The zero slot scenario: Takakeisho fails to be promoted, Tochinoshin is demoted, and the duo occupies the two Sekiwake slots. Tamawashi (5-7) goes 2-1 and drops to Komusubi, while Mitakeumi wins out and defends his rank. The four slot scenario: Tochinoshin clears kadoban, Takakeisho becomes Ozeki, Tamawashi loses more than one bout, and Mitakeumi picks up a loss. Of course, in all likelihood, we’ll end up somewhere in between.
Ichinojo has all but locked up the number one spot in the promotion queue; only Aoiyama has a slim chance of catching him. The other best-positioned contenders are Kotoshogiku and Daieisho (M2, 6-6) should the latter be able to reach kachi-koshi.
The Makuuchi <-> Juryo Exchange
This will be interesting, as with three days to go, quite a few Makuuchi rikishi have not done enough to avoid demotion territory, while the list of promotion candidates in Juryo is rather slim. Even with some over-promotions, a number of top-division rikishi may be thanking their lucky stars come banzuke day.
Dropping out of the top division: Chiyonokuni. Taking his spot: Shimanoumi (J1e, 10-2).
Already failed to do enough to avoid demotion, and must hope for a lot of banzuke luck: Yutakayama (M16w, 3-9).
Already right on the bubble, cannot afford any more losses, and might face demotion despite winning out: Toyonoshima (M14w, 3-9), Terutsuyoshi (M14e, 3-9).
Probably need to win out to be safe: Ikioi (M9w, 1-11), Daishoho (M16e, 5-7).
Needs two wins to be safe: Chiyoshoma (M17e, 6-6).
Still need a win for mathematical safety, but may be okay anyway given the long list of those in worse shape: Kotoeko, Ishiura, Sadanoumi, Yago.
Chiyomaru (J1w, 8-4) will be the second Juryo man to go up, and his many fans will be happy to see round boi make a comeback. Enho (J2w, 7-5) took a step closer to promotion, and one more win might do it, given the sorry state of lower Makuuchi. The only other remaining realistic promotion candidate is Tokushoryu (J4w, 7-5), although someone else could get lucky with a record not usually good enough to warrant a jump to the top division.